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Drug cheating at the 2017 IAAF World Championships: how best to counter this possibility

By Chris Lewis - posted Wednesday, 16 August 2017


Has the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) got on top of drug cheating? No way.

As the IAAF president Lord Coe acknowledged, he could not guarantee that the 2017 World Athletics Championships will be drug free on the basis that “people will always seek to cheat”.

While it is now much harder to cheat due to improved testing, which includes retesting past global championship medal winners, the IAAF remains an unfair playing field because there is simply no way of ensuring that all national federations behave the same way with regards to enforcing comprehensive drug testing regimes.   

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The recent example of Russia’s athletic federation, banned in 2016 after a report found that over 1,000 athletes benefited from a state-sponsored doping program between 2011 and 2015, is just a small illustration of the problem as some nations (both poor and corrupt) have less desire to prevent their athletes from winning global medals.

Where athletes reside in countries with much less stringent testing regimes, they are more capable of utilising and benefiting from illegal performance enhancing drugs before travelling overseas to compete while testing clear of drugs then subject to other national, IAAF and WADA testing.   

Some banned drugs, including testosterone, have enormous benefit to athletes. Angel Hernandez, formerly known as Angel Heredia when he was a chemist for BALCO (which supplied drugs to Marion Jones and Tim Montgomery), statedbefore the 2008 Olympic Games 100m final that none of the contestants will be clean with “the difference between 10.0 and 9.7 seconds” being “drugs”.

That is why the some journalists do the right thing and report both the strengths and weaknesses of the existing IAAF drug testing protocol. With athletes always seeking new advantages, there is always a need for drug testing scrutiny.     

This is despite Usain Bolt expressing anger after one reporter suggested a possible link with stronger anti-doping regulations given that only seven athletes broke 10 second during the rounds (22 in 2015), with the male 100m winning time being the slowest since 2003.

Whether people like it or not, it is a fact that the the Jamaican Anti‐Doping Commission conducted  just one OCT between March and Julybefore the London Olympics and only 23 out-of-competition tests in 2013, while only commencingblood tests from June 2015 (necessary to detect growth hormone use which also assists power events).

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This is why some journalists continue to highlight deficiencies in certain national testing systems. For example, it was reportedin February 2016 that Kenyan athletes were still being advised of drug tests a day or weeks before, while an August 2017 articlefound that Ethiopia was still allowing the blood-boosting drug EPO to be sold freely without a prescription while Ethiopian drug testing authorities offered dubious data concerning the Ethiopian championships.

So what can be done about the problem of vastly different national testing regimes?

Should WADA be given more resources? Maybe, but this is unlikely to make much difference if negligent national testing bodies advise their athletes when tests are to be conducted and then allow them not to turn up or be present.

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About the Author

Chris Lewis has an interest in all economic, social and environmental issues, but believes that the struggle for the ‘right’ policy mix remains an elusive goal in such a complex and competitive world.

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